Blood on their hands

Six hours after County mental health officials sent a psychotic man back home, he killed his mother and young niece.

The family always treated him like a young child, which he was in terms of intelligence and maturity.

Dubbed "Mini" because of his small stature, Rodney had no real friends, scant educational background and little job history.

In the parlance of one sibling, Rodney was "different," which was another way of saying "mentally ill." Still, as his mental woes increasingly revealed themselves, his family believed it was their duty alone to provide for him.

Mauricia Aviles with four of her children. Rodney has his 
hands on her shoulders.
Mauricia Aviles with four of her children. Rodney has his hands on her shoulders.
A psychiatrist released Rodney Aviles after just six days 
of hospitalization.
Jackie Mercandetti
A psychiatrist released Rodney Aviles after just six days of hospitalization.

Always a special-education student, Rodney dropped out at age 14. He blamed his scholastic problems on racial prejudice, and began to show other signs of what would become full-blown paranoia.

By the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Rodney's older siblings had moved out. The two girls, Carmen and Anita, got married, though they spoke to their mom daily and saw her frequently.

Orlando joined the Marines. And Lenny, who is 16 years older than Rodney, moved to Rio Grande, Texas, to be with schoolteacher Lulu Saldana. Lulu gave birth on May 1, 1992, to their daughter, Alexia.

That left Rodney as the sole sibling at home with Mauricia. She loved him as she did the others. But he seemed to be in another world much of the time.

Phoenix police arrested Rodney in May, 1997, after he allegedly displayed a weapon at a drive-through lane of a Phoenix restaurant. Officers found a handgun in his pocket and a shotgun in his vehicle. Rodney was 18 at the time.

Though the case was dismissed, Rodney's family thought it would be best for him to live in Mexico with his father and half-brothers. But he didn't fare any better there than he had in the States, and moved back to his mother's home in 1998.

By then, Mauricia Aviles had quit her job as an aide with a Head Start program to help out her daughter Carmen, who'd given birth to triplet sons.

Lenny Aviles had opened his own demolition company, and was living much of the time at his mom's house in Phoenix because of work. Lulu Saldana remained with Alexia in Texas.

Lenny and Lulu were anticipating going on vacation with Alexia after the school year ended in May, 1999. The plan was for mother and daughter then to visit Mauricia in Phoenix for a few days before returning to Texas.

In early June, the parents and their 7-year-old visited Disneyland, Sea World and the Grand Canyon. It was a perfect trip.

The three still were out of town when Mauricia Aviles and Anita Watson sought emergency psychiatric help for Rodney.


Rodney Aviles' family members say he began to act especially badly in the weeks before the murders.

For example, he yanked some food from his infant nephew and ate it. He crawled into a metal crate and wouldn't come out. He'd repeatedly remove baby photos of his nephews from the refrigerator door.

Rodney was spending hours on end in his room, barely communicating with anyone.

"What they would tell us in the Marine Corps [is] somebody is separating themselves from the world," says his brother Orlando, who was based at Camp Pendleton near San Diego in June 1999. "That's what I saw Rodney doing for a long time, and I did tell [Mom] that, too."

By this time, Rodney's delusions were dominating his thinking. He constantly accused his mother of having tattooed his penis after drugging him, and also of scarring his face. He blamed his half-brothers from Mexico for breaking his legs when he'd been living there.

For the record, none of his accusations were true.

About 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 13, 1999, a frightened Mauricia Aviles phoned her daughter Anita Watson. She said Rodney was blasting music, was running around the house breaking things and was cussing loudly at her.

Anita's infant son was sleeping, so she asked her husband Charlie to drive over to West Tierra Buena. He got there shortly before Mauricia's other daughter, Carmen Tallebas, also showed up.

A one-time Arizona Department of Public Safety officer who now owns a concrete-cutting business, Charlie Watson assessed the situation.

Rodney was in his room with his music blaring, and wouldn't leave. Charlie tried to wait him out, and returned to his own nearby home for awhile. When he returned, Rodney had locked himself in a bathroom.

Charlie hollered in that he needed to speak with him, but Rodney was unresponsive.

"Rodney just wasn't making any sense at all," Carmen Tallebas recalls. "When he came out of his room, he had a very, very angry look in his face. He was going toward the kitchen, and I said, `Mini, we need to talk to you.' [Rodney responded,]`I don't need to talk to anything,' this and that . . .He didn't care."

Rodney made a break for the front door, flashing a knife at Charlie to keep him at bay.

"I can basically remember what happened," Charlie said later. "When somebody pulls a knife on you, you remember. So I'm following him, and he turns around and pulls a knife out of the hat, and he keeps going for the door, and I keep following him, but he keeps turning around with the knife."

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